For the last several months, the New York Department of Transportation has held public discussions in the Syracuse area regarding the future of Interstate 81. As this highway is faltering, several options are being offered for its revision. As the months go by, different options replace others as the more favored. As with everything political, I have to seriously question to what extent the public will be given input into the final decisions.
One of the options is to simply rebuild this elevated highway, but to expand its width. Another is to use existing street-level roads as the highway. A third is to run the highway as tunnels under the city. A fourth, and the least favored, is to divert traffic around the city.
A critical consideration in this discussion concerns the proposed knocking down of existing buildings. The highway on street-level roads would cause the destruction of few, if any, buildings. The widening of the existing 81 as an elevated highway would necessarily involve the knocking down of a large number of a buildings. Tunneling should ideally cause no buildings to be destroyed, but, as it is being proposed, it would possibly cause the destruction of as many as 75 buildings.
The buildings in question lie in the city’s heart. Many are of a historic nature. They include the Nettleton Commons, the old Learbury building, the now-closed St. John the Evangelist Church and Snowdon Apartments.
I 81 was built through Syracuse in the 1960’s. The project was driven by then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his head of public works, Robert Moses. Hand-in-hand with their interstate highway project was their program of urban renewal. Highways and highrises were rammed through old sections of cities. Neighborhoods were destroyed. Cities lost their character. Syracuse has still not recovered from the building of 81.
Any revision of I 81 should not involve the destruction of historic buildings, or buildings integral to communities. If this occurs, further damage will be done to a city that already shows scant signs of rebounding.